You know the songs — from “Jingle Bells” to “Nutcracker” to “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” — but you’ve never heard them quite the way the group Wintery Songs in Eleventy Part Harmony will perform the Christmas classics this coming Saturday at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse.
The group is a collaboration of female folk musicians from the Boston area led by singer and songwriter Jennifer Kimball, formerly of the duo the Story. Each winter for the past seven years, Wintery Songs has brought unique adaptations of seasonal standards to venues around New England. This year for the first time, the group will land on Martha’s Vineyard for a one-night-only performance, thanks to a collaborative effort between the playhouse and MVY Radio.
Ms. Kimball has had a close association with the Martha’s Vineyard–based radio station for a long time. “I’ve known Barbara [Dacey, MVY’s director of worldwide programming] for 25 years,” Ms. Kimball said. She was a big supporter of my first band, the Story, and she’s played tracks from my solo records.”
The Story, which Ms. Kimball started alongside Jonatha Brooke, released two albums with Elektra Records and earned critical acclaim. Since that band dissolved in 1994, Ms. Kimball has made two albums and is about to release a third. The singer and songwriter has a lovely, very pleasing clear voice that no matter the tone of a song, always seems to have a bit of a laugh, or at least a smile to it. The online arts journal Anti-Heroin Chic called Ms. Kimball “one of our greatest contemporary voices.”
Wintery Songs has been called “a veritable supergroup of some of the finest local singer-songwriters.” Among the other members are Rose Polenzani, who has performed at the Lilith Fair and the Sundance Film Festival and has opened for, among others, Indigo Girls, Patty Griffin, Joan Baez, Shawn Colvin, Rose Cousins, string players from the popular Boston band Laura Cortese and the Dance Cards, and more.
“We all know each other from the great music scene in Boston,” Ms. Kimball said. “We play with each other all year.”
The combination of vocal harmonies, guitar, ukulele, cello, and glockenspiel adds a unique touch to the familiar (and not so familiar) holiday tunes that the group performs.
Ms. Kimball has created her own arrangements of each of the traditional songs, and has included a few original songs: one she wrote, and a couple of others by the string players.
“I’m fond of reharmonization of songs,” Ms. Kimball said. “We love to sing harmony. I especially like to rearrange the chords. We either change the time signature or the harmonic structure of the song or the arrangement.” She calls the group’s music “a modern reinvention of the holiday soundtrack with equal parts reverence and irreverence, from sacred to pop to versions of songs that we hear this time of year.”
Among the selections on the group’s CD “Hark,” which was released last holiday season, are a fun rendition of the Frank Sinatra version of “Jingle Bells”; a lovely, almost melancholy twist on “Winter Wonderland” punctuated by soaring string solos; a faithful version of “Silent Night” with nothing but tinkly glockenspiel accompanying Ms. Kimball’s lovely vocals and the beautiful harmonizing by the women, and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” which starts out as a round and then breaks into wonderful hymn-worthy harmonizing, a nod to Ms. Kimball’s days singing in the church choir.
The group has also thrown in some contemporary songs by Real Estate, the White Stripes, and Ana Egge, as well as a few of their own creation.
According to the group’s press release, “This beautifully eclectic mix of sacred and secular music inspires a reinvention of the holiday experience, one where minor keys are just as familiar as major, and the season’s darkness as deep as its festive lights are welcoming.”
And, as one might expect with any gathering of old and new friends, the group’s shows are always warmhearted and fun. “It’s incredibly fun and so joyful hanging with the ladies,” Ms. Kimball said. “We get lots of kids and families as well as music lovers in general at our shows. It feels like a kind of serious community making.”
“Wintery Songs in Eleventy Part Harmony”: Saturday, Dec. 17, at 7:30. Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, Vineyard Haven. Tickets are $30 for adults, $25 seniors and students. For tickets and more information, visit mvplayhouse.org.